Spending time in the mountains year-round and staying in shape are essential parts of my life. Now that I’m back from filming my part with Absinthe Films in Haines, Alaska—safe and healthy!—I’m getting back into my off-season activities, like biking, triathlons, and rock climbing.
Rock climbing, in particular, has become a crucial element of my season. In Alaska, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the massive mountains and steep terrain, but when I arrived there this season I felt way more comfortable than I had expected. I credit this to all the time I spent rock climbing over the past few years.
Hiking up a mountain or climbing up a rock face gives me a different appreciation for what the terrain will look like from the top, and this makes the mountains look more approachable. You learn to be comfortable at high points, and to trust your gear, the rock, and the footwork.
After enough practice, even Alaskan mountains seem attainable. If splitboarding is on your agenda for next winter, you’ll be a lot more confident after spending some time rock climbing or scrambling. Seeing mountain peaks throughout the seasons is great for your mental game.
Rock climbing can seem overwhelming when you’re new to it, but it’s quite easy for anyone to pick up. I remember feeling scared and a bit frustrated when I was new to rock climbing, but after a few times, I became more confident and saw how much progress was possible if I committed myself to learning. Over the years, I’ve gone on a lot of climbing trips with friends, and here are some of the things I’ve learned.
There are essentially three types of climbing:
- Bouldering means climbing without ropes. You can either use a bouldering gym, or find rocks outside with smaller routes. Bring a pad to fall onto for safety, and a crew to make sure you fall correctly.
- Sport climbing means climbing with ropes. The wall is bolted for clipping a quickdraw (a set of two carabiners attached by a strap), which also attach to your rope.
- Traditional Climbing (Trad) involves using your own gear and removing them as you move upward. This is different from sport climbing because trad routes do not have any permanently installed bolts.
Tip: Start at the gym.
When you’re first getting into climbing, you’ll want to find a local bouldering gym, or one that has both ropes and bouldering. A gym is a safe environment where you have people around that can teach you the basics. You walk in and immediately encounter someone who will run you through the basics. In a gym, you can rent shoes and whatever other gear you need, depending on which type of climbing you’re practicing. Gym climbing is the best way to get a feel for the sport when you’re starting out.
Tip: Gear is important.
There are a few gear basics that you will need for bouldering in a gym: Just shoes, a chalk bag, and chalk. If you’re bouldering outdoors, you’ll also need a crash pad to protect you from falling onto the ground. For sport climbing in a gym, you’ll need a harness, shoes, a chalk bag, and chalk. If you have a friend teaching you how to sport climb outdoors, make sure they have reliable knowledge and equipment. There is additional equipment you will need for this, including a rope, quickdraws, anchors, and grigri or ATC belay device.
Chalk is more important than you might think. It will keep your hands from sweating and slipping on the rocks. If you don’t bring your own, gyms will usually provide some for a small fee.
Tip: Pursue progression.
- Get familiar with lower grade routes because that will help you mentally get comfortable with your equipment. It’s just like learning to snowboard on a green circle trail.
- Don’t be afraid to watch people who are a bit above your skill level. See what they’re doing and consider what you can improve about your own climbing.
- The first day will be hard, but don’t give up! After an hour or two you’ll be tired, and your endurance and strength will build up over time.